One of America’s most revitalizing land banks is redeveloping vacant lot into mixed-income affordable housing in Kalamazoo, Michigan

On December 14, 2022, the Kalamazoo County Land Bank—one of the most successful land banks in the United States—in partnership with the Eastside Neighborhood Association, announced the groundbreaking of the long-anticipated, community-envisioned redevelopment project, Eastside Square.

This project was still in the dreaming stage when I (Storm Cunningham) was last in Kalamazoo, doing presentations for local leaders (including the mayor) on how best to revitalize this beautiful city in western Michigan.

As you can see in this logo, the Kalamazoo County Land Bank (a client of mine) adopted the well-proven 3Re Strategy (repurpose, renew, reconnect) that was documented in my 2020 book, RECONOMICS: The Path To Resilient Prosperity as their slogan.

This Eastside Square project is a great example of that simple-but-powerful strategy in action.

This project continues the Land Bank’s goal of assisting our partners on the Eastside of Kalamazoo to expand home ownership and commercial space use on the Eastside,” said Land Bank Director Sidney Ellis.

We are excited to be a part of the momentum to refresh, renew and repurpose properties in this area of the city of Kalamazoo,” he continued.

Clearing of the lot has already begun at 1601 East Main, future home to six one and two-bedroom, mixed-income, affordable and energy-efficient housing units, and 1800 square feet of commercial space.

Designed by InForm Architecture, LLC, in conjunction with input from Eastside residents and managed by Glas Associates, Inc., the first of three planned Eastside Square buildings is scheduled to be completed by November 2023.

KENA has been waiting with bated breath for this next phase in our collaborative East Main St. corridor development project!” said Pat Taylor, KENA Director.

Residents, the neighborhood association, and all of our partners are so very excited that this next phase is happening–keeping the momentum going strong!” she added.

Originally conceived of in 2019 after three community envision events that drew over 200 residents, Eastside Square experienced subsequent start delays due to the pandemic, construction slowdown, and construction cost increases.

Thanks to generous local philanthropic organizations and an American Rescue Plan Act grant administered through Kalamazoo County Government—as well as ongoing infrastructure support with reimagining East Main from the City of Kalamazoo—construction will begin shortly following the groundbreaking on the $2.9 million mixed-use building.

The first step in the larger Eastside Square project, Eastside Sunrise Plaza (documented at the time here in REVITALIZATION), an outdoor plaza at 1618 East Main that features local artwork that highlights resident memories of the neighborhood, was completed in September 2021.

The larger Eastside Square project includes two additional buildings at 1618 East Main that will be comprised of 12 more housing units and commercial space.

It’s incredibly exciting to see the Eastside Square project break ground,” said Thomas Whitener, Land Bank Board Chair and Kalamazoo County Treasurer.

This project, designed with the community for the community, will provide affordable housing and community commercial space in the Eastside Neighborhood. I’m very proud of the team at the Land Bank, and thankful to our partners in the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association, the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners, the City of Kalamazoo, and others, for coming together and making this possible,” he explained.

The Land Bank and KENA are grateful to the following for their generous support of Eastside Square: Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, Stryker Johnston Foundation, Dorothy U. Dalton Foundation, Marvin and Rosalie Okun Foundation, Suzanne Upjohn Delano Parish Foundation Jim Gilmore Jr. Foundation, Tyler Little Foundation, Harold and Grace Upjohn Foundation Fifth Third Foundation, Old National Foundation, Huntington Foundation and Kalamazoo County Government for ARPA funding.

The Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association is home to several community programs as well as the KENA Board of Directors. The Neighborhood Association’s mission is to improve and enhance the physical, social and economic environment of the Eastside section of the City of Kalamazoo, Michigan to the ends that the community may have a more pleasant, attractive, safe and convenient place to live and work.

The Kalamazoo County Land Bank was created in 2009 in response to the growing number of tax foreclosures in Kalamazoo County. It was developed in the context of a recognition throughout the Midwest and across the country that utilization of Land Bank tools could assist with community development, improve quality of life, and halt neighborhood decline.

The mission of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank is to create vibrant communities through the elimination of blighted properties, the creation of affordable housing opportunities, and the stabilization of property values. The Land Bank fulfills this mission by repurposing, renewing and reconnecting vacant and blighted properties in Kalamazoo County.

The Eastside Square building at represents the first phase of a larger community-envisioned, mixed-use, redevelopment project. On the 1600 block of East Main, this project includes nine vacant and abandoned properties which were envisioned by the Eastside residents to have family-friendly retail with moderately- sized and moderately-priced condominium units, as well as a two public pocket plazas.

The first pocket plaza, Eastside Sunrise Plaza mentioned above has been well-used, including for a 2022 well-attended Show Me the Money organized by KENA and the Land Bank’s Affirmative Marketing Committee.

Two of the residential housing units will be ADA compliant. The 1,800 square feet lower-level commercial space will be one of the first developed retail space from new construction in over half a century in a neighborhood that is still in slow recovery from the recession and decades of disuse.

As part of the larger vision for East Main redevelopment, KENA has also purchased a building from the Land Bank at 1818 East Main which is being repurposed to house a small café with plans to open in early spring, 2023.

Photo courtesy of Kalamazoo County Land Bank.

See Kalamazoo County Land Bank website.

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